On November 29, 2023

Payne: racing is a passion

Simeon Payne


By Karen D. Lorentz

If ever a skier’s life has come full circle, it would be Simeon Payne’s.

Born in England, at age 6 his family moved to Belgium for his father’s work. Thanks to his oldest sister taking him on a four-day ski trip to France, the young Payne learned to ski and loved it — despite skiing in the rain. At age 8, his father transferred to Switzerland so Simeon got into racing and raced through high school there.  

With his parents moving to the states, at age 18 he went to college at the University of Connecticut where he raced on the ski team and garnered enough FIS points to be invited to try out for the British National Team. 

“My father encouraged me to take that year off to train and have an experience of a lifetime,” Payne said of family support. 

“I went to France at 19 and showed up with 8 pairs of skis to train with the British team (they trained with the French team). It was an experience in learning to take care of myself. I was on my own and learned to adapt,” Payne observed. Whether it was having enough money to eat or surviving a storm on a glacier, “I learned how to deal with life and to honor my commitment,” he explained.

“I also woke up to how good international team racers are and although they would have taken me—based on the trials—I decided I wasn’t going to make a career out of it and went back to college.” 

Payne graduated in 1987 as an economics major and got a job working for a New York derivatives trading firm for 33 years. Living in Darien, Connecticut, the family took ski trips and on one to Okemo, he was delighted when his 7-year-old daughter ask if she could do racing.

Both his daughter and son went on to go through Okemo’s race programs but “didn’t want me to coach so people wouldn’t think they had an advantage,” Payne said. 

It wasn’t until 2018 when they were in college that Payne turned to coaching racers on the weekends. That led to becoming Okemo’s Competition Services Assistant Manager for the 2021-22 season.   

While he brought his corporate and racing experience to the position, Payne noted that he still had to learn about managing, a job that entails “taking care of 75 coaches and 20 race crew. I tell people it’s like being a wedding planner.” 

Part of those coordinating duties include consulting with the coaches about how kids are doing and when they should be moving up. Another is filling in as a coach for any of the Alpine groups, a job he enjoys immensely.

Working with Competitions Services Director Wayne Conn and Administrative Assistant and Race Administrator Robin Tracy made his job transition a good one. 

“Wayne and Robin have been amazing in helping me to learn this job of managing. The three of us were new here together, but we improved the programs and I’m doing something I really love,” Payne said.


Programs and benefits

Okemo’s competitions department has some 350 kids in its Alpine, freeski, and snowboard programs. 

The Alpine racing programs include: Hopefuls (81 kids) for 7 to 10 year-olds; Devos (40 participants) for ages 12-18 who want to train but not compete or travel; and U-10, U-12, U-14, U-16, and U-18 groups with 167 kids. Okemo Mountain School and Okemo Competition Center work together so on weekends OMS kids train with Okemo’s weekend programs with a sharing of coaches.

“The Freeski program (26 kids) starts at age 10 due to kids needing to ski really well technically before going into freestyle events like halfpipe and jumps. They tend to train together but at events they go by age,” Payne explains.

There are 25 training in the snowboard program which starts at age 7, and ranges from an intro level to competitive snowboarding.

Asked about the significance of these programs, Payne said, “The ability to experience competition is a life lesson for any kid. Competition of any kind for any kid often takes them out of their comfort zone and they learn to adapt,” he added. “My daughter said the best life lesson is one of adaptability—learning to adjust to different situations or courses and that translates to her job now.

“Plus there is a commitment—getting up early, training, travel for hours to a race, being out in an ice storm—so much is involved. Participants learn many things: preparation for a competition is a big responsibility and then there is the gratification not just from winning but overcoming whatever adversities are thrown at them on any given day. Different courses present challenges and some can be afraid of something new like a steeper course,” he said.

“The best part is when young kids are encouraged that they can do it and you get to see the joy on their faces when it all comes together. It’s exciting when you see them get it, when they’re full of confidence and gratitude for what they’ve learned,” he added.

Passion not work

Being back in the race world has been gratifying for Payne, who likes dealing with kids and parents. Parents often tell me, “I wish I could quit my job and do that,” Payne says of leaving behind a suburban lifestyle in 2022.

“It’s a different world from the 5:30 a.m. train commute into the city from Darien. My wife was supportive and said ‘This is what you want to do,’ so we sold our home and moved to Vermont. 

“In Switzerland, the Alps were at my back door so I fell in love with mountains and being out in nature so it has always been a dream to live here.There’s more to life than money.

“I should have done it 10 years ago. But people are at different stages of their lives so it might be difficult financially, but if thinking about it, take the path that makes you happy,” he said.

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